Friday, January 25, 2019

Spies and Secrets: Secrets and Lies

Jonatha Brooke: Secrets and Lies

This theme was inspired by the recent revelations that there is a chance that the President of the United States has been acting as a secret agent of Russia, possibly our country’s biggest enemy. This potential disloyalty is unprecedented, I think (there were some who thought that Jefferson was too pro-French back in the wigs and guillotine days, but there are differences).

On the other hand, Trump is consistent about one thing-- he is fiercely loyal to himself, and if he is working on behalf of Russia, it is because he is trying to protect his money or his reputation. Or both. Or, I guess, it could just be because he lacks any understanding of American foreign or domestic policy. Or all of the above.

Plus, he has lied more than any prior president—making more than 8,000 misleading statements or blatant lies in two years. The whataboutists, of course, point out that President Obama’s claims about his health care legislation were not 100% accurate, so that’s one. 7,999 plus to go.

It seemed to me that Jonatha Brooke’s song, “Secrets and Lies,” from her 1997 album, 10¢ Wings, fit the bill. It should not be confused with the 1996 Mike Leigh film Secrets & Lies, or the ABC show from a couple of years ago, Secrets and Lies, neither of which I have seen.

Brooke and Jennifer Kimball (a childhood friend of my wife’s) began singing together at Amherst College, and recorded a couple of albums together as The Story, before breaking up. 10¢ Wings was her second solo album (although the first was credited to Jonatha Brooke & The Story, but Kimball was not part of it). “Secrets and Lies” is not about politics, or about secret agents, but about the everyday evasions and withholdings that underlie so many of our relationships, and how one perseveres.

It is a symptom of the state of the music business that Brooke, a great songwriter and singer, never had the success that she, and others, expected. In fact, as she told sportswriter Jeff Pearman (writer of a great book about the 1986 Mets, among other things--the description of the plane ride home from the World Series is still one of the funniest and grossest things I've read), in a 2013 interview on his blog:

it totally sucked getting dropped when “Secrets and Lies” was just beginning to chart at Triple A radio … MCA actually called the stations that were playing me and told them to stop. 

Read that again—her label dropped her and called radio stations and told them to stop playing the song that they had released. I hope that the program directors either told MCA to fuck off, or said, fine, but we are going to replace it with a song from another label. Any other label.

For what it is worth, MCA Records had been subsumed by Universal (run by music biz legend, and briefly my former boss, Doug Morris, who hired Jay Boberg, who I’m pretty sure I dealt with when I was at WPRB, to run the label), which itself went through all sorts of management and structural changes, and in 2003, the MCA name was essentially retired.

Brooke had the last laugh, outliving MCA, releasing a bunch of albums on her own Bad Dog Records, including an album of songs with unreleased Woody Guthrie lyrics (in the Mermaid Avenue tradition), and performing a well-received Off-Broadway one-woman show, My Mother Has 4 Noses, about her relationship with her mother, who suffered from dementia.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Spies and Secrets: The James Bond Theme

purchase[ The Ventures: James Bond Theme]

Whereas spies aim to be as secretive as possible, there's no better song to scream "SECRET AGENT" than the universally recognized James Bond Theme. Heck, the first measure of the song is enough to tip you off.

There's been a fair amount of words spent trying to clarify who should be credited with writing the song: the courts seems to have established that Monty Norman was given the job and John Barry was asked to clean it up. Those distinctive first notes are, however, more or less what you can hear in Monty Norman's "Good Sign, Bad Sign", and that makes a strong case for his authoring claim. But ... John Barry (and his "7") turned it into what we recognize today.

However, it was the Ventures' version that got the recogniton/air-play that propelled the song to the top of the lists back in '62.

That said, the iconic guitar you hear on the film version is from a guitar player named Vic Flick. He was part of John Barry's group (of 7). The distinctive [echo/reverb??] sound of the guitar is partly due to the limitations of recording technology in 1962, and partly the capabilities of relatively new electric guitars.

Flick's credits hardly end with this: he played on recordings for Lulu and the Beatles, among others.

In the late 80s, Flick also got together with Clapton to record another possible song for Bond's <License to Kill> (that was not finally chosen)
There are a bunch of other rejected Bond theme versions, including those by :

Alice Cooper
Johnny Cash
Amy Winehouse

Flick passed away back in 2009 - too far back for this year's <In Memoriam> theme ...